Denmark will consider legalizing gay marriage – including church weddings – early next year.

The coalition government has announced plans to introduce a bill in January. If approved, gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to marry and hold weddings in the Church of Denmark.

In 1989, Denmark legalized registered partnerships for gay couples – the first country to do so – but such unions are not allowed to be celebrated in the church.

Manu Sareen, the coalition government's church minister, told Copenhagen-based daily Jyllands-Posten (The Copenhagen Post) that he expects his legislative proposal to be approved.

“The first same-sex weddings will hopefully become reality in Spring 2012. I look forward to the moment the first homosexual couple steps out of the church. I'll be standing out there throwing rice.”

“I have many friends who are homosexuals and can't get married. They love their partners the same way heterosexuals do, but they don't have the right to live it out in the same way. That's really problematic.”

Henrik Hojlund, chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Network, said he opposes the plan, calling it “fatal for the church.”

Polls show that a large majority (69%) of Danes support allowing gay couples to marry in the church.